A Tale of two Vans – LEGO City, Penguin Slushy Van (60384) and LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741)

My ignorance about the bigger world of motorized road-bound vehicles notwithstanding, somehow I still end up building a lot of car models. Whether it’s the Speed Champions or some random truck or van from another series, I all too often find myself attracted to some of them. Not necessarily for them as “cars being cars”, funny enough, though. Sometimes I just like the design and idea behind it, other times my zeal for harvesting parts just gets in the way and yet another time it’s just an affordable way to kill some time on an evening with a manageable number of pieces. The two cars presented here are inevitably a mix of all these things, so let’s have a look.

LEGO City, Penguin Slushy Van (60384), Box

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741), Box

Price and Contents

But first things first and let’s run our usual drill of evaluating the price and value. At 194 pieces for 20 Euro the Penguin Slushy Van (60384) is the cheaper of the two models. It regularly retails around 13 Euro, however, so it is extremely affordable. The downside to that is that it feels rather barebones, with only the two minifigures and no other extras. That also goes for the van itself, which could be summarized as “you just don’t see where those 200 parts are”. A lot of them are simply buried inside and/ or invisibly used on the chassis. At this price there’s little point to complain about that, though.

LEGO City, Penguin Slushy Van (60384), Overview

The second package, the Dog Rescue Van (41741) likewise comes with pretty exactly 200 pieces, but at 30 Euro is a tenner more costly. Whether that can be attributed to a few more larger parts and them being a different kind or LEGO just deciding on prices randomly during lunch break is anyone’s guess, of course. It feels a bit arbitrary and you just can’t see where those extra bucks go. The vehicles end up being about the same size and what little additional effort and parts the little side build may require surely doesn’t rationalize the extra cost. This would be expensive if it cost 25 Euro and the self-regulating magic of the market seems to prove my point. Apparently nobody buys this at full price, so retailers offer it regularly for 18 Euro or less to their own financial detriment.

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741), Overview

Penguin Slushy Van (60384)

Right out of the gate the slushy van is one of those “I get the idea, but…” situations. You can see the intention of what the designers tried to do, but at the same time you also see the simplifications and where corners were cut. One of the most obvious issues to me is the color scheme, meaning more specifically some choices in the actual colors used vs. ones that would have been desirable.

The thing that bugs me the most are the mud guards. Apparently LEGO were unwilling/ it wasn’t in the budget to produce this particular type of wheel housing in Orange, considering they haven’t done so in 15 years and even then only once. As it is, we end up with the Dark Azure version again, but really, who needs that? In recent years they clearly have used this version way too often. The point here is not so much me bitching about this just to make a stir, but Orange would have much better served to communicate the idea of this being a penguin sliding on its belly. You know, those feet… In fact perhaps there should even have been two colors with the front being Black to hint at the wings and the aft being the Orange ones for the flippers. Either way, it feels like some very obvious visual trick was missed here.

The other issue pertaining to the colors is that the vehicle feels neither frosty nor refreshing. The other blue-ish areas are the wrong kinds of blue, the Black regions are too extensive and even the Magenta trim elements make things look kind of dirty and depressing. Point in case: This is nothing I would suspect being a slushy van/ ice cream vendor if it drove around the neighborhood ringing its bells. The stickers would not improve this too much, either.

Another such weak point is the slushy cup on the roof, even more so since it isn’t meant to receive a sticker that would act as the branding/ label. It looks a bit weird and not at all like a bottle filled with fluid. Again it also doesn’t look “frosty” nor does it convey the frothy/ foamy texture of the liquid. Even if they hadn’t changed anything else, making the two half-cylinders Trans Orange or Trans Red would already have improved things and communicated this better.

LEGO City, Penguin Slushy Van (60384), Front ViewComing beg to that penguin thing, the front doesn’t really do it for me, either. I guess the most obvious shortcoming is the “beak” not really looking very pointy and the face being to compressed. Those eyes should be further up and on a real van of this ilk would probably be stickers on the hood. that doesn’t mean this section is bad, just not really what I would do. On the bright side it does come with the (for now) still somewhat rare rounded corner piece in Black and the semi-circular 1 x 2 tile in the same color.

The interior is functional, but not very exciting and rather sparse. With so little on offer it is questionable whether the business would be sustainable. Not even a fridge to keep the base juices/ syrup around! Of course the penguin costume minifigure is one of the highlights of this set, though similar to the car itself I feel a color other than Dark Azure would have popped more. How about Bright Light Blue or Light Aqua?

While my complaints may sound terrible, in summary this is a good enough van in the sense of “generic food van No. 5” It would work for a number of scenarios with minor changes, it just doesn’t do the job it was originally designed for very well. Just a dab of Orange here and there would have made it look more friendly. Similarly, making it entirely Black and adding some gold trim could sell this as a gourmet BBQ or cheese wagon. there’s a lot of ways to spin this.

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741)

The second van comes from a different universe, in a manner of speaking, and it definitely shows with regards to the way it is constructed, color selection and so on.  Before we delve into that, let’s have a look at the side build, though.

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741), Bus StopThis set comes with a little bus stop. It’s not realistic in that it lacks the typical parking bay and is built directly onto the lawn rather than connecting with the road. To me this is more like one of those auxiliary stops in big parks or cemeteries that are only serviced during certain hours of the day or on weekends with small (electrical) vehicles while the rest of the time people would simply us it as a normal bench for resting. If you buy into this backstory then the little contraption makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how flimsy it is and I really wish there was a bit more going on to stabilize the two Lavender frames in particular. The “found dog” kennel with the raise-able sign to signify people whether it’s occupied is a nice idea, though I’m not sure how it would work in practice and haven’t seen it anywhere near me. You know, someone would still need to alert the nearest animal shelter or authorities by phone or whatever.

On to the car that in this scenario apparently would be the means of picking up the stray dog(s) and provide first care. What drew me in here was the containerized design, a concept which has rarely been explored in the Friends line or for that matter in other series as well, at least for cars of this size. You may get your occasional explorer truck with a removable lab or similar, but for those smaller vans it’s not as common. In this particular case you could sell it as a custom build on top of a used car frame perhaps and that’s why it looks a bit wacky in a way with the container being noticeably wider than the car’s frame.

On that note: The van definitely needed to be longer. Even just adding two studs would have improved the appearance massively and it might also have helped adding some more stuff to the interior. Short bed vans do exist, yes, but with the curved panels taking up so much space it doesn’t look very elegant. For me as a parts collector of sorts the 2 x 2 quarter cylinders in Bright Light Yellow do have some value, though, as it’s a new color not seen before.

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741), Front ViewThe stubby-ness is also very noticeable in the front view with the truck looking like it was cut off in the wrong place. This can be verified further once you take off the removable sub-assemblies. The car’s usable length is literally split in half with fifty percent being allocated to the cabin and the other fifty to the container. This also explains why it looks so disproportionate. In artsy terms it would need to be more along the lines of the Golden Ratio with the rear bed being extended ever so slightly. The images at least illustrate that everything is very accessible, so decent play value is ensured.

Not to belabor my point about the length ad nauseam, but the inside of the container could serve as further indication that more space wouldn’t have been a bad idea. It feels very crammed and doesn’t even come with a transport unit for whatever dog they may pick up. I also think it would be more realistic if there were actual stilts/ supports to raise the container into a convenient working position.

LEGO Friends, Dog Rescue Van (41741), FiguresFor the figures we have Dr. Marlon and another version of Nova along with her dog. The girl has a different shirt and the dog comes with its harness in Sand Blue as opposed to the Neon Yellow in the other set. Regrettably there is no additional dog that would actually fit into the little rescue kennel at the bus stop. It would have enhanced the play fantasy quite a bit.

Outside that the set does not offer anything special or exciting, unfortunately. The idea behind it just doesn’t feel fleshed out enough and for all intents and purposes this perhaps should have been part of a larger set with an actual rescue station. That would have allowed to “sell” things differently. Some might argue that I should just shut up and buy the actual Dog Rescue Center (41727), but that doesn’t really do it for me, either. Something just doesn’t gel. That aside, it simply strikes me as an odd sales strategy.

Concluding Thoughts

A lot of what I wrote no doubt sounds like I’m unhappy, but ultimately I’m not. With those sets I didn’t expect anything magical to happen and within the constraints and limitations of these series and the cost of the models even the designers can only do so much. It’s more about seeing the potential of what could have been. That said, there’s of course nothing wrong with these sets. With some modifications the slushy van would be a good addition to many City scenes and the same could be said over on the other side in Heartlake City. On their own they just feel a little incomplete and of limited use.

Yellow Dog House – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2023

My long review of the latest Speed Champions kept me far too busy for far too long, so I’m a bit late in bringing you the latest magazine updates. You know, had it floating around, had done the photos but then just didn’t get around to doing the article. Now that we’re here, let’s see what the May 2023 issue of the LEGO Friends mag brings us.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2023, Cover

Opening the magazine for the first time and quickly sifting through the pages immediately brought up a pleasant surprise on the first few pages – a pretty decent coloring picture. Unfortunately it’s the only one and covered with clutter plus, of course, it being printed on the regular thin paper is not ideal. They really should do a central section with thicker stock and put that stuff on there. More on this later.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2023, Comic

The comic is surprisingly acceptable, which may or may not have to do with the fact that it has a lot of panels with the doggies instead of just the girls (and boys) in awkward situations in their homes. Certainly the choice of location helps. A detailed forest is just more attractive than a bland kitchen or study.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2023, Comic

While the back side of the poster is just a bog standard “girls lying in the grass with rainbow swirls” affair, the front one has a cute little dog/ pup on it. Certainly nothing extraordinary, but cute enough.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2023, Poster

Another nice gimmick is the crafting page. Now the “Let’s build a tent!” gimmick has been in this mag on and off, but in my opinion it really would be good if these crafting pages with paper cutouts would be a regular occurrence in every mag. It just fits the theme and there’s enough material I could imagine. This brings us back to my point with the coloring page, though. No doubt all this stuff would benefit from stronger paper in terms of stability, opacity and brilliance of the color.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2023, Crafting

The extra is something I’ve been looking forward to since the preview in the last edition. It’s really something new we never had before and it just looks adorable. I love everything about this little makeshift dog kennel. Okay, it would have been nice to get the hinge plates in proper Green instead of Sand Green, but as I’ve said in the past it’s absolutely clear that they’re not going to do recolors just for these little magazine bags if an element doesn’t exist in a specific color already for a set. Either way, it’s nice.

Overall I can highly recommend this issue. It’s just fun. There’s naturally room for improvement, but I won’t complain too much. If every of these magazines were as good, we’d live in a better world…

Bad Hair Day – LEGO Friends, Hair Salon (41743)

The girls (and guys) of Heartlake City are apparently quite fashion-conscious and so it happens the aside from the unavoidable clothing stores there has always been a hair salon in this series in one way or the other. The last one I reviewed a few years ago was quite nice, so let’s see what the latest iteration of this regularly recurring human service facility is about.

LEGO Friends, Hair Salon (41743), Box

Price and Contents

The Hair Salon (41743) as it’s just called now comes with 401 pieces and is supposed to cost 45 Euro regular price. On a bad day I’d stop my review here and mumble a “WTF?” to myself, followed by a “Thank you, but no, thank you.”. Uttering those words gives you an idea where I stand on this. Yes, the price is simply obscene and one once more has to call into question how those decisions come about over in Billund. It’s just not acceptable.

With that in mind the burden is once more on the retailers offering massive discounts and not making much money in the process and when you start out at such a high MSRP it really stings/ stinks. I got my package for 32 Euro and from what it looks like this is pretty much as good as it gets. The price has settled firmly at this threshold and bar some super special promotion I wouldn’t expect it to go much lower. In fact even with that the price per part ratio reinforces the impression that this is an expensive set when you consider that there aren’t that many big elements and the box is stuffed full of 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 pieces.

LEGO Friends, Hair Salon (41743), Overview

The Figures

The figures in this set consist of three of the new generation of characters with them being Nadia, Olly and Paisley (left to right). For the most part I don’t really care about the specific context and how they fit in the overall story. It’s just nice that there’s a lot more options for the clothing designs and hairstyles and – in theory at least – one could populate Heartlake City with a wide variety of diverse characters, including kit-bashing together entirely unique ones from others’ pieces.

LEGO Friends, Hair Salon (41743), Figures

The Extras

The set comes with two side builds – a bench and a piece of wall. They aren’t anything special, but illustrate one of the problems with this set. As laudable as it is to do something new try and mimic some cobblestone pavement, the whole thing falls flat on its face. For one of course the lack in color variation makes it look weird, but more importantly the absence of rim stones lets it stand out too much (literally) when it would need to be nicely recessed and framed.

The Main Building

As far as hairdressers go, this building is certainly very, very unique and more than just a little bit odd. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that such a building could exist out there and a former news stand or florist’s has been repurposed into a hair salon with glass cupola roofs, but it would be highly unusual and for all intents and purposes rather impractical. Imagine the sun light those large glass roofs and curved windows would let in! The heat in there, especially during summer of course, would kill you and likely also ruin all attempts to get your hair done properly. All the hairspray in the world can’t save a hairdo soaked with sweat, if you get my meaning. That is to say that the building from a technical point of view is very impractical or even implausible. At the very least it would need to be decked out with exterior blinds and shades to avoid some of that.

Looking at the shape and layout of the building you’d be right assuming that the assembly process is not very enjoyable. This is yet again one of those typical Friends sets where you go tall first before you go wide and deep, meaning you build a lot of column like stuff that on its own is rather fragile and only settles and stabilizes once you add the top row of plates and tiles that connects them. Definitely not my preferred way of working and indeed the model came apart numerous times during the process. There’s just not enough there to hold things together for quite a while.

On that note, I also loathe the sloppy way the semi circular plate at the door has been attached with a single 2 x 6 tile. Why can’t LEGO just give us an extra layer of plates underneath? That incidentally also would have taken care of the pavement issue laid out earlier. it looks even weirder here because it’s just one row. To really bring home the effect it would have needed to be three rows at least.

The mid section on top of the hallway has a slightly hidden roof garden, which is a nice idea. In a funny way it also hearkens back to my comments about this being more suitable for a flower shop perhaps.

The interior of the salon is sparse, but adequate enough to believably convey the idea of a functional hairdressers’ workplace. There are two different stations left and right and the central hallway. In a small village this might be sufficient, but even in my suburban town those salons usually have a lot more chairs and equipment. Aside from the obvious fact of the building being too narrow in the first place you would have to expand it considerably to really capture that busy feeling of a real salon. Somehow the older salon managed to do a better job at that and overall feels more spacious and “real”.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet that rubs me the wrong way is the choice of colors, in particular the Dark Pink. No, if you know me it’s not that I have anything against this color at all, but it is not being used wisely here. The point really is that there is one color too many being employed. There are five major ones used – White, Dark Azure, Bright Light Orange, Yellowish Green and the already mentioned Dark Pink and each sub-set of four could work, but as soon as you throw in the fifth things look off. Doing the window frames in Dark Pink or in reverse, substituting the pink decorations with the Yellowish Green would have resulted in an overall more balanced and more pleasant, calmer appearance.

Concluding Thoughts

The set tries something new in terms of how the building is designed and that deserves recognition for the designer(s). However, one can’t ignore that it is an expensive package that under-delivers in many areas. It’s reasonably large, but at the end of the day it feels like there could and should have been more. It’s really a shame. If I were to integrate it into an existing LEGO city or diorama scene I’d also definitely convert the building into something else like indeed a nice little flower shop and in the process I’d swap out the colors to something more harmonious. I’d also fix that pavement stuff to make sense or get rid of it entirely.

With all that in mind I would not really recommend this set for what it tries to be. In a way its older cousin holds up better as a hair salon and if at all this new package really works better as a basis for something completely different. In that sense the box is just a parts pack and if it wasn’t for some new elements like the Yellowish Green window frames or the quarter domes re-appearing after a long time even I might not even have considered buying this for this review and to bolster my parts portfolio.

Chasing the White Rabbit – LEGO Friends Magazine, March 2023

The LEGO Friends magazine is not necessarily the most exciting magazine, but somehow through all those years has managed to be just good enough for me to never have ditched it. The topics are of course predictable and repetitive and so it’s not much of a surprise that the March 2023 issue is basically the “Easter Edition” with rabbits and all that since the April issue will only come out after the festive days. Let’s have a look at what’s inside.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, Cover

Despite my “hangin’ in there” I’ll never get behind the comics. They’re just awful and adding new characters hasn’t done much to improve the situation. The style and panel layout are just boring and the stories laughable.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, Comic

In keeping with the special subject we inevitably get some extra content by ways of an editorial/ info page on rabbits and there are other bits sprinkled across the pages such as a nice, but very small coloring image. They’re also still in the process of introducing the new characters, so there’s a bunch of activities related to that as well.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, Info Page

On that same note, the back side of the poster features several of these new Heartlake City inhabitants for you (or your kid) to better learn their names. the front side simply features a photo of a rabbit doing its thing in the grass.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, Poster

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2023, ExtraThe extra is one of them washing stations/ diagnostic table things we’ve seen a hundred times with minor variations in the color theme and build style. Really nothing to write home about, even more so since they didn’t include a new version of the rabbit, either.

All things considered, this is one of those issues that “just exist” and while it has a few good parts, the rest is as forgettable as it is most of the time. I would not urge anyone to buy it, but if you enjoy this type of stuff it’s definitely okay.

Dining out – LEGO Friends, Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728)

Friends has been a staple of my LEGO career and so it always has been a big part of this blog as well. With the series celebrating its 10th anniversary I only have covered part of its journey, but that’s still quite a bit. One thing I learned pretty quickly was that there are always a few standard subjects across release cycles. Not necessarily with every one of them, but somehow there’s always some sort of restaurant, a hair dresser or beauty salon, a fashion store and so on. Sometimes it even leads to this situation where multiple variations on the theme are on the market because the models get refreshed in alternating patterns and the old versions are still on the market while the new one comes out. This is kind of the situation now. While sales of the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444) are tapering off after two years, the new Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728) comes in. Let’s have a look at it.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728), Box

Price and Contents

The set officially costs 30 Euro for 346 pieces, which is pretty much line with the previous offering. If you wanted to be very particular about it you could even a whole song and dance about those 25 pieces more than the other model, but let’s not forget that most of them will be small 1 x 1 elements and similar. In standard fashion of course there’s the matter of discounts to make things worthwhile and you can count on some good ones for this package. I bought mine for 21 Euro, but just the other day I saw it being sold for 17 Euro. That’s about 44 % off! So you see, there’s not much excuse to not at least consider getting it. 

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728), Overview


LEGO Friends, Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728), FiguresThis being the anniversary of the series, LEGO decided to give it an overhaul and aside from the package design looking a bit more modern this especially means the introduction of a large roster of new characters. This is being sold with all flowery marketing language to mean better diversity, representation, inclusion of different ethnicities, special needs people and all walks of life, but at the end of the day the simple truth likely is that the complaints about lack of variation were becoming too loud and the formula a bit stale with Mia, Emma, Andrea, Olivia etc. being in every set. I definitely felt that. Whether an onslaught of new characters whose names you might not even rember is the solution to the problem remains to be seen, though. In this package you get Charli, who stands out with his Light Aqua hair and is the chef, Aliya, the dark-skinned waitress and Liann, the skater girl, as her customer. that’s sufficient to play out a few scenarios and also in relation to the size of the set, but of course this would benefit if you dug out some other figures to make everything a bit more busy.

The Diner

LEGO Friends, Heartlake Downtown Diner (41728), Seating AreaThe building itself comes in pieces, which mostly means it comes with a separate guest seating area. Apparently the models is neither wide nor deep enough to fit it internally. That is unless you were to re-design the interior. It’s okay, but apparently it would have been nice if this segment was somehow connected to the main building. The obvious answer would have been some sort of L shape like the old Emma’s Art Café (41336) or similar. Given how the whole thing is build it shouldn’t have been difficult to add that 90 degree corner and extend the window front and roof.

The design is of course based on those old American diners from the 1950s and 1960s which were often converted from trailers or small kiosks built in the same style. Lots of rounded shapes and curved elements. The model captures this spirit nicely, without being too specific. the big sticking point for most people will of course be the color scheme. It really hinges a lot on how much you like Dark Turquoise and Coral. The good thing about it is that the sideways arches and the curved slopes are new in their respective colors, expanding the options for your own builds. That also goes for the Bright Light Yellow 6 x 6 door frame, which is at this point exclusive to this set. Most other elements are either already existing color variants or can be found in other sets. Some of them are more desirable than others, apparently, but overall the selection of parts isn’t that bad. There definitely have been less useful Friends sets when it comes to the yield of reusable parts.

Given the small size of the building, the interior is sparse as you would expect. It basically only contains the kitchen and two coin machines – a jukebox and an arcade gaming station. The latter has been a matter of debate in some other reviews in terms of kid-friendliness and all that. personally I find these discussions a bit far fetched, given that most kids will play games on their smartphones or have a console at home, anyway. You have to go with the times!

As so often the case with these types of models in the Friends series the most annoying part is the assembly. The two floor plates are only connected with the tiles for a long time and likewise, the whole window front remains very wobbly until the moment it is actually fixated with the plates for the roof. Once those and the transversal bar are in place, though, the model is quite robust. Another issue, though a minor one, are the curved slopes for the various ramps. LEGO have been using this in a few sets since last year and while it is serviceable to create the illusion of accessibility e.g. for wheelchairs, they do come off pretty easily.

Concluding Thoughts

The set doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but is a solid design and could be a good basis for integrating a small diner/ kiosk into an existing city. You would of course need to extend it somehow by making it deeper or wider, be it just to accommodate the seating in a believable way. The price point is reasonable enough and to me it’s also more credible than the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). I’d definitely give it a whirl if the colors don’t turn you off right away.

New Year, New Friends – LEGO Friends Magazine, January 2023

The time “between the years” is surprisingly busy this year, with many of the LEGO-related magazines having slipped their publishing dates to this slot, so there’s going to be quite a bit to do for me on this front. For starters let’s have a look at the Friends magazine for January 2023.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Cover

LEGO Friends “celebrated” its tenth anniversary this year with very little fanfare. If the various blogs hadn’t written about it, you wouldn’t know. There was never a specific celebratory set or a special edition of the mag to make you aware on a broader basis and in particular outside the AFOL bubble. However, you might have noticed the different design for the 2023 sets. Apparently the company figured it would be time for a refresher of the series. This is not just affecting the visual design of the packaging and other marketing materials, by extension including the magazine, but also allegedly is supposed to modernize the Heartlake City world with new characters.

Of course half of that is just the usual marketing BS, as I don’t really believe much will change. They’re still going for the same tropes and stereotypes and just having a few more boys, more characters with colored skin and a few special needs people doesn’t really mean much when it’s so diluted that some things are barely noticeable. They still aim for girls of a certain age range and overall it’s too harmless to really advance matters like disabilities and diversity. Anyway, they’re throwing a ton of new names out there and this issue is filled to the brim with short bios and background info on those. Whether or not you can keep them all straight or don’t care much is an open question. I’ll probably not remember most of those names.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Comic

The poster hammers this home as well with a group shot of some of the new gang, but if you prefer there’s also a shot of some kittens in a basket on the back side.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Poster

The extra is a small cat castle/ cat scratching tree. It’s not that special, but overall done well enough. The more interesting aspect of it is the little black kitten. I tried to look it up on Bricklink, but it’s not yet listed there, so it must be a very new version of this creature. Even more surprising is the fact that I could only discover it in the upcoming Cat Hotel (41742). That would mean we’re getting a new animal version before it even appeared in a proper set. Could this be true? It’s certainly interesting to observe. If you don’t plan on buying that package, here’s your chance to get the little guy!

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Extra

With everything being new again I didn’t mind the usual shortcomings of this mag as much, but truth be told of course the comic is still terrible and so are a few other things. I guess once we get used to the new Heartlake City inhabitants it will be back to boring, but at least in this first issue getting acquainted to the new characters adds a bit of excitement and distracts from the less great parts.

Juicy June – LEGO Friends Magazine, June 2022

It’s a well-established tradition that the LEGO Friends magazine is very seasonally themed and so here we are with the summer edition for this year.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Cover

As you would expect, the comic is centered around all sorts of activities one can do in the sun and the heat, most notably spend some time at a beach or a pool. Aside from my more general dislike for the Friends comics due to the girls looking creepy this one also comits a similar sin as the latest Jurassic World comic – everything looks just flat and lifeless and of course the story has very little substance beyond haphazardly trying to set you up to buy the latest pool-themed sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

Personally I’m pleased that the magazine at some point has introduced more “real” activities and the coloring page has now become a staple. There are some more drawing-centric tasks plus a few puzzles. Another standout is a tic-tac-toe/ memory style “pack your picnic bag” game which could offer some ten minute fun. unfortunately it’s printed on one of the regular pages instead of the thicker outer wrapper, so durability and handling aren’t going to be great.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Coloring Page

The posters aren’t half bad this time as someone had the good sense to not plaster them with unnecessary typography or extra fluff character cutouts that don’t fit the subject and don’t match in perspective, the most common sin in many of Blue Ocean‘s designs.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Poster

The extra is a small push cart with a juice/ smoothie bar on it, which is rather appropriate for the subject at hand. It’s simple and efficient and well decked out with fruit, which is something one cannot always take for granted. Two bananas and an apple is nothing to balk at. The only thing that could have made it better would be one of the printed pineapple or melon minifigure heads, which I would have preferred in place of the smartphone tile.

This issue doesn’t quite give me the positive vibe I had with the last one, but it’s still quite good and absolutely serviceable to keep your kids occupied for a bit while enjoying the sun at a public pool or beach…

Cats & Vets – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2022

While it fails to provide anything revolutionary, the LEGO Friends magazine keeps chugging along and still manages to tickle my feet every now and then. I wasn’t super excited for the May issue, but I knew it would at least be tolerable based on the preview in the last edition, so lets see what we’ve ended up with.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Cover

One thing I knew would make this bearable was the cat subject and the comic already is full of the little felines. The title of it, “Cat-astrophe” at this point is just lame word play, as this has really been overdone to death, but that’s just a minor thing. The overall style of the comics is still rather weird, but at least the story is relatable this time and not completely wacko. Some of the characters and scenes clearly point to the current sets as well with the pet clinic and houseboat for instance.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

The coloring pages by now are an established standard, so that’s just fine. If they didn’t try so hard to always squeeze in all the girls it might be even better. Who doesn’t like coloring cats and kittens? 😉 There’s two smaller coloring sections on other pages as well. Oddly enough, even the puzzles scattered throughout this time aren’t all that terrible. Overall there’s good content here that could keep your kids distracted for a good while.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Coloring Page

The posters repeat bits of the comics and match the overall topic quite well. I also found myself wanting those crazy-looking mice decoys in some form, be that as a LEGO piece or as a plushy or felt animal. They look kind of cute and interesting.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Poster

The extra is another examination table, of which we had several versions already over the years, even more so if you count the various pet grooming stations as well. The build therefore is quite similar to what we got before with some slight variations. One of those is actually using a solid 4 x 6 plate instead of scattering the individual assemblies onto several bricks or smaller plates. I got one of those Lavender plates with the not so great Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), but it’s not so widely used in sets. If you want one in a straightforward way this might be a good option. An interesting tidbit is the use of an actual Light Bluish Grey door on the container which is unusual for Friends in particular, but also in a more general sense. Those grey doors are surprisingly rarely used in sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Extra

Overall I’m surprised at myself how much I enjoyed this issue. It goes to show that a consistent motto and story thread have value and thinking about these things and not just throwing together random stuff pays off. I’d definitely recommend this one, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for cats, of course.

It takes two! – LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699) and Pet Playground (41698)

There’s some things that just don’t work all by themselves in isolation and on the rare occasion that can be true for LEGO sets all the same. While within the individual themes and sub-series they of course are always designed with a consistent story or “group logic” in mind, you rarely find yourself in a situation where buying two at once seems inevitable because getting just one would feel incomplete.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Box

Those are the sentiments I had with the Pet Adoption Café (41699). Something was seriously missing and I just couldn’t avoid getting the Pet Playground (41698) to make up for those shortcomings and, at least in my mind, improve the overall value. It literally takes two (sets). Ever since I came up with that headline I can’t get the Tina Turner & Rod Steward song with that name out of my head, but that is perhaps a story for another time.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Box

Price and Contents

Both sets are in the more affordable range with the café clocking in at 30 Euro suggested retail price for 292 pieces and the playground at 20 Euro for 210 pieces. As you would expect, that’s not necessarily the “real” price and they can be had for notable discounts. The café can be bought for 20 Euro or less and the playground will set you back a mere 12 Euro if you’re lucky. Aside from my usual Scrooge-y-ness out of necessity this seems much more in line with what you expect, as the original prices seem rather random and arbitrary. One set is basically just a simple house cubicle while the other is a collection of small objects to decorate a scene. The official pricing just does not compute in my head in terms of value for money, regardless whether you pin that on the number of pieces, their size or the overall volume of stuff.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Overview

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way right away with the café is the shortage of animals. If this is an adoption opportunity, a measly three creatures just doesn’t cut it. This would then be a “take it or leave it” scenario and people would be disappointed. That’s like going to the animal shelter and only being shown the “problem dogs” nobody wants. There should definitely be at least double the number of pets in this set and this really shouldn’t be a problem, given that there are enough molds and color variants available. Incidentally, the playground fares much better in this regard and getting two baby kittens and a dog almost feels luxurious for such an affordable set.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Overview

The Café

Right away I have to admit that the LEGO version of the adoption café is nothing like I would have envisioned it. I never had any pets myself for a million reasons that are too boring to go into, but I’m friendly with most cats and dogs and have been playing around with the idea on and off in my head. That being the case, I also had a pretty clear picture of what I would the adoption process to be and what the potential venues for this should look and feel like. This certainly does not meet those criteria I envisioned!

Most importantly it just doesn’t have that positive, cosy vibe I’d expect. I basically would want to sit quietly in a corner and watch the little buggers from afar, waiting for a few of them to come up to me and then see how we respond to one another. None of this feeling is present here. It feels like a normal walk-in shop where you’d just pick an animal and then take it home. It all looks rather sterile and there’s neither enough room for the humans to actually sit down nor the pets to perch themselves or get engaged in activities. this could easily have been avoided had they designed it similar to Emma’s Art Café (41336) from a few years ago. Extending at least on side with an additional 6 x 8 plate or something like that to get an L-shaped design would have worked wonders!

This is another gripe I have here – everything looks terribly symmetric/ mirrored, in particular from the exterior. An asymmetrical design in line with the Golden Ratio rule would have looked much better. Conversely, if at least they had decked out one side of the front with, say, three windows, things would look quite different. That also goes for the color scheme. Even if it’s not the most pleasing combination, using Lavender and Magenta stripes could have worked when limited to one side. The other side could then have had a different stripe pattern or a wall in a simple single color. On that note, I also think that the Green floor does not work that well. This should be in Dark Tan or even Light Bluish Grey to not be as distracting, as the model already is way too colorful for its own good.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Door

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), FiguresA small, but noteworthy detail is the new door type with the cat/ dog flap. It apparently appeared first in White in the Home Alone (21330) set and debuts in Dark Purple here. On the subject of colors, there’s a new skin color in the LEGO portfolio, used here for Priyanka (right figure), clearly a girl of Indian/ Bangladeshi descent as the name implies, clichéed as it may be. I have some more thoughts on the color itself and the reasoning behind it in a separate paragraph at the end 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Schnauzer Dog I still try to collect as many LEGO animals as possible, so I’m always pleased to see new molds appear, even if lately I prefer the crisper, sharp-edged City versions over the more softly rounded Friends variants. The little Schnauzer/ (Scottish) Terrier is a nice addition to the catalog and should prove popular.


LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), BicycleThe bicycle should look familiar to regular readers of my blog, as it was included in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). For the time being this Bright Light Orange version is only available in two sets, certainly someone with a permanent LEGO city might appreciate having it to add interest to its bustling streets.


LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Outdoor Table The small table for the outside is an okay build, but really only your boring standard stuff. You’ve seen it a million times and this merely varies the them by using transparent round bricks, not solid color ones.





I’ll never make friends with stickers on brick-built models, but at least I can appreciate some of the effort that goes into designing the artwork, so this is a situation where once more really wish at least some of these motives came as prints on the elements. The thing that baffles me the most is that in a set called Pet Adoption Café they couldn’t manage to print the “Adopt me!” poster at least. If nothing else (considering that it’s on a separate standee, anyway), it would have been a nice gag. Of course it would have been equally nice if the round tiles were printed. I still have a hard time imagining kids in the target demographic putting on those stickers perfectly centered.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Stickers

The Playground

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), FiguresSince there is so little actual play content in the café, either digging out extra pieces and animals from your own stock or buying more sets will be required. For the purpose of this review (and my own ambitions for absorbing the pieces in my collection later) I opted for the latter, which might be LEGO‘s devious plan here, anyway. Doing so will give you another two minidolls and three more pets and that alone is a major improvement. The figures are just your standard Andrea and her sister Liz, but they have at least new prints.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), TrashcanThe smallest side build in this set is a little trash bin for collecting the dog poop. While it may not look like much it is already notable in that a) the Lime Green trash can is a new color for this piece and b) the dish element in the same color also hasn’t been around since 2017 according to Bricklink.



The seesaw and carousel are extremely basic, but do what they are supposed to. They’re built onto the new 8 x 8 round plates in Tan, an element previously only seen in White in the DOTS Creative Party Kit (41926) where they serve as the lids to the “cupcake” containers. The interesting observation here is that likely we’re only getting them in this set, because they’ll also be used in the upcoming Orchid (10311) plant set (inside the pot) and LEGO already have produced large batches of them.

The counter-thesis to that is the gate with the turnstile where they cheapened out and have you assemble the base from two of the Lime Green half-plates that have been around forever. In this case it works okay, because ultimately there is not that much here that would necessitate a more robust construction, but it would have been nice. Maybe the situation changes once the stock of the half-plates has depleted and they switch production. On the positive side, they actually managed to include the only textured element, the signage on the entry gate, as a print. I guess there’s a threshold where printing a single tile is cheaper than producing a sticker sheet, after all.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Gate

The main attraction is the play castle, of course and this is full of little surprises in terms of what pieces are used, even if the build itself is just as simple. I was really taken aback, when I realized the 1 x 1 x 3 brick in Medium Nougat was a new color. They’re used in droves in every Friends set and I could have sworn I’ve seen them before! Other such recolors are the corner panels used for the sandbox and water pool, respectively. The rest is standard stuff and this builds in a breeze. I don’t know much about dog training, obviously, but personally I’m missing a bridge/ balance board on the whole thing where you would condition your dog not to be afraid of heights.

The New Color

LEGO are pretty bad when it comes to “representation” in the broadest sense with many product series propagating outdated tropes and stereotypes, parts of the populace being underrepresented or ignored, their weird pretentious “family friendly” policies just sweeping things under the rug and occasional cultural appropriation having some funny side effects. Now of course the Friends theme is guilty as charged and a prime example for many of those things such as adhering to outdated role models for girls and women.

Portraying different ethnicities and people of color has also been a particularly weak point not just in Heartlake City, with a sweeping majority of minifigures and minidolls being girls of the Caucasian type, i.e. having white/ pale skin. The irony here is that this is a problem they created for themselves a long time ago when they started moving away from just using yellow minifigure heads for licensed themes such as Star Wars and they had to find a way to accommodate all those skin tones. Heck, before it was deemed inappropriate and they gave them the Nougat moniker (though here too it could endlessly be argued what Nougat actually is, given that the same word means different things in different countries), they were even called Flesh.

They’ve certainly made some progress on that in the last two years with more more figures having darker skin tones and more diverse hairstyles and facial expressions, but it is still a far cry from encompassing some demographics. One very obvious omission from the color book was the very specific skin tone prevalent in the South Asian regions, meaning India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and a few other countries. It’s not quite the dark browns and blacks of African Americans, but also not the lighter orange-ish/ light brown color that Hispanics and people of mixed heritage often have.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Skin ColorThis little problem has now been rectified by introducing a new color. LEGO calls it Medium Brown and it’s placed somewhere between Reddish Brown and Medium Nougat. I tried, but my camera definitely is quite limited, so the specifics of the color don’t come out as clearly in a photo, but you’d definitely see it when you have it in front of you. The color itself actually feels more like a Dark Brown (rightmost brick in the top row) that has been lightened with White since it does not share the reddish tinge of the neighboring colors. It’s more of a “cool” or “neutral” color like the aforementioned Dark Brown or for that matter also Dark Tan.

Now of course as always when LEGO introduce a new color there is a grander plan behind it and while using it for figures only for a while would be just fine, they’ve already expanded its use. The LEGO ART set Elvis Presley “The King” (31204) already features 1 x 1 round tiles in this color as well. That gives me hope that not too far in the future we may also see other elements like plates and bricks appear in this color in other packages, as not too long ago someone seems to have had some sort of epiphany and realized that “skin colors” look nice for other things as well when used with care. The Boutique Hotel (10297) is proof of that. With that in mind one would hope that Medium Brown will be used to similar effect as yet one more option for wood elements, facades, trees and so on or as a substitute e.g. in the Architecture series when Dark Brown might look too much like Black due to the scale effect. If LEGO are smart about it and commit to this, I can see a multitude of uses here.

Disclaimer: None of this is meant to be in any way racially or ethnically insensitive, so please let me know if I used poor wording or wrote something offensive while trying to explain my train of thought.

Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this is one more case where LEGO just didn’t get it right. You could argue about the subject and how they have infantilised something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but that’s not the point since the children won’t make much of it, anyway. However, you can question their design and business decisions and this is where for me things don’t really work. The smaller playground set is okay and could be used in conjunction with other sets as well, but the adoption café? That’s why I feel it would have been a much better decision to merge these two packages into one, refine and change a few things and sell it for 40 Euro as a more wholesome set. Given how things are currently, you would have to spend that money, anyway, and that’s basically what you should plan for: If you want to get the café, you can’t possibly avoid buying a complimentary set. The playground would be one of the more affordable options, though not necessarily the only one.

Rabbit Invasion – LEGO Friends Magazine, March 2022

The date when Mr. Easter Bunny will be visiting is still a ways off, but his next of kin are already here thanks to the March 2022 edition of the LEGO Friends magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Cover

Rabbits are of course pretty cute – most smaller breeds, anyway. Even I can’t escape their quirky charm whenever I’m at a small petting zoo or visiting relatives. On the other hand, they are pesky little buggers and notoriously prone to falling ill with all sorts of weird infections, so keeping them is not as easy as it sounds and as this magazine makes it look. You might need to be prepared for that if your kid falls in love with the idea and keeps pestering you about it. 😉

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

As always the comic is so-so, with the best moments/ best panels being the ones where the girls don’t annoy the heck out of everyone by being in view like someone tried to zoom in on their teenage girl pimples, a.k.a. puberty acne. Otherwise it’s just the usual combination of cheap soap opera level writing, the girls seemingly wearing the same clothes everyday and some harebrained stuff going on in Heartlake City. Funny enough the car shown in the comic bears quite a bit of similarity to the recent Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), though in reality it would be even smaller than that.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

Thankfully there’s loads of other pages such as this info page on a few rabbit varieties, several coloring bits and a few quizzes/ puzzles, of course. This makes the whole thing tolerable, as clearly the comic alone doesn’t hold a candle to provide enough interest.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Info

The poster with the two baby rabbits snuggling up to each other is also quite okay, while the back side has just yet another umpteenth group shot of the girl gang.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Poster

The extra is a small enclosure for the rabbit such as you would likely have at home if you were to have such a small critter. It even has a small drinking spout. The colors are interesting, since the flap element used for the slide is in Bright Light Blue, a rare variant. There’s also a single 1 x 2 plate in that same color. I guess we’re just lucky that LEGO came out with a few sets using those pieces last year and we can profit off surplus stock here. Something similar could be said for the rabbit droppings, which are Dark Brown, not the more common Reddish Brown. Again we have to thank the ART sets for them being available at all in this color. The yellow corrugated bricks mimicking the hay/ straw are also nice. I only have a few from other sets and every bit helps to expand my parts stock, obviously.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Extra

The general shortcomings of this publication notwithstanding, this issue is one of the better ones. It isn’t as atrociously “teenage fantasy” as some others and there’s enough content aside from the comic to warrant a purchase. There are even a few unique pieces, which make me a happy camper.